For generations, actors have been winning awards for their performances on-screen. And of all the ceremonies out there that commemorate the work of Hollywood’s finest, the Academy Awards — also known as the Oscars — is the biggest, glitziest and most prestigious of them all.
Every year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) gets together and votes for which films of the preceding year were best. Roughly 6,000 AMPAS voters — all members of Hollywood’s film industry, from actors to directors to writers and so on — cast their ballots for which films they believe did best in 24 respective categories. These include Best Directing, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Costume Design, just to name a few. Most of our era’s finest actors have been awarded the golden statue at least once in their careers. Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, Robert De Niro, Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, and Michael Caine have won twice. And in the upper-most stratum, Jack Nicholson and Daniel Day-Lewis have each won the award three times.
And yet, while some acting greats have had the accolades heaped upon them, others have gone home year after year empty-handed, left only with their millions of dollars and just as many adoring fans. And so with that, please enjoy Screen Rants’s list of 16 Great Actors Who Have Never Won an Oscar…
16 Will Smith
Will Smith has had one of the more phenomenal careers in show business. He achieved fame at a young age, first for his rapping as one half of the hip-hop duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, and then for carrying that persona over to the hit TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when he was only twenty-one. He parlayed the success he found there into a huge movie career. Bad Boys, Independence Day, and Men in Black were bona fide blockbusters, mainly thanks to Smith’s rare combination of leading-man charisma and great comedic chops.
Audiences have also been gifted with a few more serious roles from the actor. For his Oscar-nominated work in two biopics, Ali and The Pursuit of Happyness, we saw the actor’s range and surprising knack for overtly dramatic fare.
It has always seemed like there’s no role too big for Smith. So it might come as a surprise to some that he’s never won the coveted award.
15 John Malkovich
A star with many interesting film choices under his belt, John Malkovich has made a career out of playing eccentrics and villains, often in dramatic films. He may be best known for an almost-comic turn as Cyrus “The Virus” in the Nicolas Cage film Con Air, but most of Malkovich’s works have been much more subtle than playing a diabolical genius.
Being John Malkovich was a surreal dark comedy from director Spike Jonze, wherein John Cusack plays a lowly office worker who discovers a secret door at work that leads whoever enters into the mind of acclaimed actor John Malkovich. It’s a heady and fun affair, and Malkovich does well playing… well, playing a fictionalized version of himself. Another movie of note is his 1993 thriller In the Line of Fire, in which he costars as a former CIA assassin who’s intent on taking out the President, and Clint Eastwood stars as the Secret Service Agent who attempts to stop him. Malkovich delivers a gripping performance playing opposite Eastwood — in fact, he received his second of two Oscar nominations for it (his first came in 1985 for Places in the Heart).
14 Bill Murray
Bill Murray has had a long and storied career. From his days as an Saturday Night Live cast member during the show’s formative years, to his success in comedy hits like Caddyshack and Ghostbusters, Murray is a comedy legend. An appropriately eccentric character in most of his films, Murray has also branched out into more dramatic roles, like his great turn in Lost in Translation, in which he plays an aging star who travels abroad to shoot yet another commercial. Murray’s portrayal of a more serious character here shows his depth of range, with his comic charm underpinning the performance.
Roles like this, and his work in many Wes Anderson films, show Murray’s abilities across the spectrum. It’s surprising that one of the most magnetic actors on-screen has yet to nab an Oscar.
13 Richard Gere
After finding some success on the stage and in minor film roles, Richard Gere hit it big when he was cast as lead character Julian in American Gigolo. He followed this up with a string of well-received films in a short span of time, going on to have a successful career through the 1980s and 90s.
Gere’s good looks and quiet charm worked well in roles as a romantic lead. His turn as Zack Mayo in 1982’s An Officer and a Gentleman exemplifies this. Gere has also starred in straight suspense roles, as in Primal Fear, and in dramatic roles like And the Band Played On and Internal Affairs .
Despite his extensive repertoire and experience, Gere hasn’t yet landed a golden statuette.
12 Johnny Depp
Johnny Depp is a unique persona in the acting world, one which combines formidable talent, leading-man presence, extraordinary range, and the creative willingness to try anything. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but usually it does. Because of this asymmetrical way of picking parts, Depp seems to have had two disparate acting careers: playing lovable oddballs like Edward Scissorhands, Hunter S. Thompson, and Willy Wonka, and then turning on a dime to play straight-laced underworld types, as exhibited in excellent dramatic pieces like Blow, Donnie Brasco, and Black Mass.
A thoroughly unique and adored star, Depp has never won an Oscar. The Academy nominated him three times, for his roles in Pirates of the Caribbean, Finding Neverland, and Sweeney Todd. He’s an actor who’s not afraid to take a risk, and one of these times it’s sure to pay off with the Academy.
11 Robert Downey Jr.
Robert Downey, Jr. is one of the most interesting screen presences out there. Coming across as witty and confident, the actor excels at roles that allow him to banter with others. His style is so organic on-screen, it seems effortless, like he’s going to break the fourth wall at any moment and have a conversation with the audience. This is not to say he’s lackadaisical, but rather, he seems so at ease in his environment that viewers can’t help but watch as he makes his next move.
As it has been publicized to a great extent, Downey has had a stormy past, suffering from drug addiction. This made for some just-okay movies at the time, but he’s also been in some gems. His role as Charlie Chaplin in the 1993 biopic scored RDJ an Oscar nom. And in a move befitting his legend, Downey got another nom for his work in the wild farce Tropic Thunder.
10 Alan Rickman
An actor of Irish and Welsh descent, Alan Rickman is known for playing worldly and cunning villains, sometimes of cloaked origin. He’s best known for his recurring part as Professor Snape in the Harry Potter films. As well, he also gained acclaim for playing the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But the movie that cemented his dastardliness was actually his first major role: In 1988 he starred as international supervillain Hans Gruber in the evergreen hit Die Hard. There, audiences got to hear Rickman’s trademark baritone voice snarl threats at John McClane (Bruce Willis).
Rickman is a fantastic thespian, and so it comes as some surprise that he’s never won at the Academy.
9 Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise is one of the most famous people on the planet. He’s also been in a few films. The movie star has had many hits throughout his career — movies like Risky Business , Top Gun, and the Mission Impossible series. Along with the blockbusters he’s most known for, Cruise has been in quite a few dramatic roles which show his formidable range.
He was nominated for his work in three films: Born on the Fourth of July, Jerry Maguire, and an especially blistering performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. And at the complete other end of the spectrum from his action star roots, Cruise starred in Stanley Kubrick’s searing final film, Eyes Wide Shut.
8 Harrison Ford
Indiana Jones. Han Solo. Two of the coolest characters in cinema history. So surely, the guy behind them has won an Oscar or two, right? No?
Harrison Ford has had one of the most successful careers in Hollywood. He is known for playing rogue, resourceful characters. Some notable roles of Ford’s have included playing the President in Air Force One, CIA Agent Jack Ryan in Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger, and Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive.
Of his many film roles, one stands out as perhaps his most sensitive and nuanced performance: his turn as Detective John Book in 1985’s Witness. He was rightly nominated for that performance, but ultimately lost that year to William Hurt and his part in Kiss of the Spider Woman.
7 Liam Neeson
Liam Neeson is mostly known these days for his 2008 role in the unexpected hit, the equally silly and great Taken. In it, Neeson takes on the role of a father who just so happens to be an extremely skilled and dangerous one-time government agent and now bodyguard to VIPs. His daughter is kidnapped while on a trip to Paris, which sends him on a pursuit of her captors, on whom he doles out vicious revenge. It’s the part that rejuvenated popular interest in Neeson, and helped to popularize the niche of old, acclaimed thespians as action stars.
In a previous life, Neeson had some stellar performances in less schlocky fare. He starred as the respected Scottish leader in 1992’s Rob Roy, and played Irish revolutionary Michael Collins in the eponymous 1996 biopic. But by far Neeson’s greatest achievement was his portrayal of Oskar Schindler in Steven Speilberg’s holocaust memorial Schindler’s List. For their parts in that film, Neeson and co-star Ralph Fiennes both barely missed a win.
6 Ed Harris
A singularly indignant and serious figure in film, the characters achieved by Ed Harris always carry a certain weight. In David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, the actor co-starred as part of an ensemble cast, in which he played an underperforming and touchy salesman. In The Rock, he played a spurned general who threatens to destroy San Francisco, lest he be stopped by Sean Connery and Nicolas Cage.
Harris has been Oscar-nominated for his work in four films: Best Supporting Actor in Apollo 13, The Truman Show, and The Hours, and Best Actor in Pollack, which he also directed.
5 Samuel L. Jackson
We all know and love Samuel L. Jackson from at least one of his movies. In fact, it’s kind of hard to escape the guy: He’s the number one actor in the world when it comes to box-office sales — $7.2 billion domestically and climbing — having had a part in well over one-hundred films. Much of this bankability comes from Jackson’s role as Mace Windu in the Star Wars prequels, and as Nick Fury in the veritable Marvel film franchise.
Jackson’s known for his charisma and outsized intensity on-screen. No one in film history can use expletives quite like him. For having been in dozens of films, with many of them critically acclaimed and box-office successes, it’s kind of stunning an Oscar has evaded such a big star for so long.
4 Edward Norton
Edward Norton has the rare talent of invariably raising the stock of any movie he is part of. His talent and versatility are readily apparent when one looks at just a few of his past roles: In 1998 alone, he co-starred as ne’er-do-well Lester in the fun poker flick Rounders, and was the picture of evil as neo-Nazi Derek Vinyard in American History X. A year later he gave an awesome performance opposite Brad Pitt in Fight Club. He elevated the Spike Lee joint 25th Hour into a brooding classic. And the list goes on.
Like many others on this list, Norton has been nominated for an Oscar — an amazing three times. But, he’s never nabbed the prize.
3 Ralph Fiennes
The consummate dramatic performer, Ralph (pronounced “Rafe”) Fiennes has always delivered measured, elegant portrayals no matter the film. Sometimes it pays off, as in The Reader, and sometimes the movie doesn’t live up to his acting (we’re looking at you, 1998’s The Avengers).
There are a few performances of Fiennes that have astounded audiences. In Schindler’s List, Fiennes portrayed detestable Nazi official Amon Goeth. He was nominated for that performance, as he was for The English Patient three years later.
He could have easily won for either of those performances. And in 2014’s comic The Grand Budapest Hotel, Fiennes used his royal air to play a wonderfully aloof hotelier. It’s the funniest we’ve ever seen him, and a performance that should have received at least a nod from the Academy.
2 Gary Oldman
2011 was the year of The Artist. The black-and-white French silent movie from director Michel Hazanavicius swept the awards shows, vacuuming up five Academy Awards, including Best Actor for lead Jean Dujardin. One of the nominees that Dujardin beat out that year was Gary Oldman. It was the latter’s first nomination.
It’s kind of amazing how Oldman has been working all these years, putting in often extraordinary performances, and almost never being considered for an Oscar. Of course his nominated turn in 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy was great, but his resume reaches all the way back to the eighties, with a breakthrough portrayal of Sid Vicious in 1986’s Sid and Nancy.
As the drug-addled bad guy in Leon: The Professional, or personifying Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Oldman has left an unforgettable legacy in cinema. He is one of the greatest actors alive, which makes it all the more amazing how little recognition he receives come Oscar season.
1 Leonardo DiCaprio
Leonardo DiCaprio has given some pretty electrifying performances in his career. In fact, it seems to be his working relationship with Martin Scorsese that’s most worked to his benefit. Master director Scorsese seems to have taken on DiCaprio as his new muse, casting the actor in many of his more recent pictures the way Robert De Niro was employed in the previous couple of decades. And maybe it has something to do with the movies around him being so good, but it seems that Scorsese always seems to extract the best performances from DiCaprio. The Aviator, The Departed, and The Wolf of Wall Street perhaps best show the winning formula of the collaboration.
In total, DiCaprio has been Academy-nominated an impressive five times. This has led many in Hollywood to believe the actor is now overdue for an Oscar. And with all the buzz building around his performance in The Revenant, one of the next round of Oscars just may go to him.
Well, did we miss any? Which snubbed star surprised you the most? Let us know!
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